As more companies realize the great need for data scientists to develop, experiment, and deploy artificial intelligence (AI), IBM designed a certification program. It offered it to the company workforce, and incentivized employees completed the program through coursework, skills training, and apprenticeships. IBM just accredited its first 140 data scientists.

IBM’s certification and related programs “will speed the journey to AI and help improve business performance, efficiency and growth,” said Martin Fleming, IBM vice president and chief economist. The demand for data scientists is recognized in the tech industry which “actually identifies the demand for data scientists as one of the industry’s most pressing needs.”

Fleming cites social-media career platform LinkedIn’s 2018 report, which found 151,000 US data scientist positions unfilled. “More companies are looking inward for ways to build the skills among their existing workforces,” he said. “demand for data scientists [is] far outpacing supply. Organizations of all sizes are staring at gaping holes in their business teams and, by association, their futures.”

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Further addressing the shortage of AI-developing data scientists, Fleming said, “You have to fill [the gap] or live with the consequences: stagnant innovation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the burgeoning world of AI, where a gap in your development team can be an imperative, stalling AI projects, if not preventing them from ever beginning.”

In January, IBM partnered with the industry consortium The Open Group to create and develop a data scientist certification which helps companies assess and validate data science skills through practical experience to advance AI aspirations. The Open Group helps “achieve business objectives” through vendor-free tech standards and certifications.

The data scientist certification program, which offers three levels of certification, is an immersive, online course with peer-reviewed projects that industry experts then assess.

Also in January, IBM announced its Data Science Apprenticeship program, a 24-month program designed for job candidates who may not have a college degree, and consists of three main components: education, mentorship, and practical experience.

Last week IBM, the University of Pennsylvania and the Linux Foundation announced a first-of-its-kind open-source project to launch next year, which gives universities worldwide tools to quickly build data science programs. IBM and UPenn are currently creating a curriculum kit with a set of open-source building blocks for teaching the core concepts of data science in both undergraduate and graduate programs, such as Python and open-source tools and frameworks. It will also include slides, documentation, code, and data sets, which could be adopted or updated. Colleges can access the kit, free from Git Hub.

“There are actually a growing number of data science programs that universities are making available to students today,” Fleming said. “With a data science program, students should look for a combination of mathematical statistics and computer science. There is a knowledge requirement in understanding data science theory, the use of mathematics and more. However, IBM’s program is specifically focused on demonstrating those skills have been applied to develop a project result.”

Ana Paula Appel, master data scientist at IBM Research in Brazil, and the first person in the country to earn the certification, said, “It’s a great thing.” Appel, who finished the program in four months, added, “It’s hard to prove you can handle lead projects with clients,” and certification “gives clients the certainty they’re getting people who can do the job.” She said the certification [shows clients] that she “really knows applied data science—not just a theoretical skill. That’s important.”

Appel and colleagues received the certification as IBM employees at no cost. While the first class of 140 were all IBM employees, Fleming noted that it is open to anyone. But while grateful for her gratis certification, Appel admitted the program “cost is very high” for those outside of IBM.

Meanwhile, for non-IBM techies who will need to “save up” for the coursework and certification, Fleming stressed the critical industry demand for data scientists, and offers the following suggestion: “The must-have skill sets required for entry -level positions would have to be a basic understanding of business strategy, statistics, and computer science.”

The watershed program, Fleming said, demonstrates how “IBM is committed to helping organizations fill the widening data science gap in their ranks. Our hope is that these steps, among others, help to build a solid path to sustained AI experimentation, development and deployment. Doing so will speed the journey to AI and help improve business performance, efficiency and growth.”

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